To Cicekli.

I was back at the hotel by 1.00pm and washed a few items of clothing before sitting on the balcony to write up some notes about the morning. I felt a little tired, perhaps because of being in the sun for a long time and walking to and from Mazgirt’s citadel, but when I had some honey and yoghurt with the last of a simit from Tamdere, I felt the fatigue evaporate. I decided to have one last adventure to the village of Cicekli south of Tunceli. On the way to Mazgirt I had past the road junction for Cicekli and, because the name of the village contains the Turkish word for flower or blossom (“cicek”), I was curious to see what it looked like.

With cloud building up in the sky, I walked to the road bridge over the river and flagged a minibus to the university. I got off at the campus entrance and started walking south. When a heavy rainstorm began I sheltered under trees overhanging the fence surrounding the garden of a large modern house. When the worst of the rain had eased, I tried flagging a lift to the road junction for Cicekli, but had no luck. The junction was further from the campus than I remembered, but I eventually got to it and began to ascend quite steadily but gently into the hills. Cicekli lay 9 kilometres away, but the undulating hill country through which I walked was very attractive. Every so often I got excellent views of the large campus now below me. Not all the university’s buildings were complete, but those that were looked enviably attractive, albeit in an institutional manner, which confirmed that generous amounts of money were being directed toward higher education, even in a province such as Dersim so often starved of resources in the past. In the distance were the mountains through which I had travelled the day before to Ovacik, but nearby were fields, pasture with wild flowers, patches of woodland and isolated farms and houses.

The university campus, Tunceli.

The university campus, Tunceli.

The road led to more villages than Cicekli alone, but traffic was very light. Eventually, however, an elderly man, a retired guestworker who had spent most of his life in Germany, stopped his car and made a short detour to drop me in the middle of Cicekli. Just before entering the village we passed a very large, rectangular jandarma post with high walls, towers at each corner, a fortified entrance, lots of razor wire, large dogs and many armed jandarma who closely scrutinised the infrequent movements on the nearby road. The fact the jandarma post was occupied confirmed that worries about security remained in Dersim, but why in an area with a relatively small population was a mystery to me. Given the substantial presence of uniformed representatives of the state in Tunceli, the armoured vehicles parked in the town’s streets and what I saw now, Dersim suddenly felt like an occupied territory controlled by a colonial power. If this feeling afflicted me, and I had been in the locality less than thirty-six hours, how must the local people feel, be they Turks, Kurds, Armenians, Alevis or Kizilbash?

Cicekli.

Cicekli.

Cicekli did not have any more flowers than is typical of rural Dersim, but the mixture of old and new housing, and the friendliness of the people I spoke with, meant I had chosen a suitable destination for the latter half of the day. The sky remained overcast, which meant it was pleasantly cool as I walked around.

Cicekli.

Cicekli.

Cicekli.

Cicekli.

Cicekli is not a large village and does not support a tea house or a shop. The buildings are dispersed over a gently inclined hillside overlooking a pretty valley wider than many in the area. Small fields, pasture and orchards surround the buildings. Most families earn a living from the land and quite a lot of buildings are therefore used for agricultural purposes. Many of the old buildings, some of which spread over two storeys, have been constructed with a very attractive stone, no doubt quarried locally, which, although dominated by a light brown colour, also has white and orange smudges. Some of the barns and other buildings used for storage purposes utilise corrugated iron and flat metal sheets to good effect, and a few brightly coloured trailers and motor vehicles add visual interest. Many of the old houses are quite large, which suggests that the village used to be quite wealthy by local standards.

Cicekli.

Cicekli.

Cicekli.

Cicekli.

Cicekli.

Cicekli.

The road to Cicekli had carried very little traffic on it, so, after about an hour in the village, I left for Tunceli concerned about how long it would take to get back to town. As I walked past the jandarma post a few of the jandarma waved, but the large dogs barked in a very threatening manner. Two women stood in pasture about a hundred metres from the road; they were responsible for a small herd of cattle. I walked past a gulley where, despite the attractive surroundings in which it lay, people had tipped large amounts of litter. Two cars drove by, but the drivers ignored my requests for a lift. However, after walking about 3 kilometres, a car stopped and the driver took me all the way to the main Tunceli to Elazig road. He explained that he lived in a village about 15 kilometres to the north and west of Cicekli, which made me realise that the road network locally must be more extensive than I had imagined (and it has no doubt improved significantly in recent years, primarily to make it easier for the police, the jandarma and/or the army to move around more rapidly).

Cicekli.

Cicekli.

Between Cicekli and the main road to Tunceli.

Between Cicekli and the main road to Tunceli.

On the main road I began walking toward Tunceli, but a minibus serving the campus and the next settlement south of the campus offered me a lift to the campus itself, which gave me the chance to confirm that the university’s buildings have been designed and built in ways that cannot fail to engender admiration. My short time on the campus confirmed what I had observed the day before, that only a small number of female students wear headscarves.

The university campus, Tunceli (from inside a minibus about to leave for the town centre).

The university campus, Tunceli (from inside a minibus about to leave for the town centre).

I was ushered onto a second minibus, but, instead of going to Tunceli, it was driven south toward Elazig to drop off two members of staff at a small settlement beside the river (the river was very wide near the settlement due to a dam lower down its course), then it returned to the campus! I was now taken to the point from where minibuses departed for Tunceli and, with every seat but mine occupied by students, we soon left for our destination. Kindly, I was given the best seat on the minibus, the one next the driver, so the views were excellent. Despite all my worries about getting back to Tunceli in good time, I was in the town centre not long after 5.00pm.

I had a good look around the small pazar where all the businesses were open and many benefited from people shopping at the end of the working day. I also noticed that it was from the edge of the pazar where minibuses left for my next destination, Pertek, so I confirmed with staff in a small office about departures early the following morning.

I sorted a few things in my room, then walked to the river intent on having a good meal in a pleasant lokanta, preferably one overlooking the river itself that served beer (I could hardly go without alcohol in Tunceli on my last night given how many local places sold alcohol). Almost facing each other across the river are two large lokantas and between them a footbridge makes it easier to examine both quickly.

The Celal Dogan Restaurant, Tunceli.

Celal Dogan Restaurant, Tunceli.

I decided to eat in the Celal Dogan Restaurant on the side of the river closest to the town centre, partly because it was still in the early evening sunshine, and partly because it had many more customers (although young women seemed to prefer the relative quiet of the lokanta furthest from the town centre and now completely in the shade). I could have eaten indoors, but a table was free beside the river where I could watch fish rise to the surface to catch insects and birds feed on the wing. Although offered a menu as I sat down, I knew exactly what I wanted from a list of food displayed on a large board in the small car park: a lamb sac kavurma, a dish I have grown to love in recent years, and one that Alevis in Dersim claim as their own. I ordered a Tuborg and, about fifteen minutes later, a sublime, melt-in-the-mouth sac kavurma arrived with a basket containing warm flat-bread similar to lavash. Just for the record, the sac kavurma comprised of very tender, perfectly fried cubes of lamb, a generous portion of bulgar pilaf and an equally generous amount of onions, peppers and tomatoes fried together so the flavours of the individual ingredients exchanged with each other to good effect. Sliced raw onion decorated the top of the food to provide a contrast in taste and texture.

At the end of the meal I chatted with a young man from Mazgirt who was aged about seventeen and training to be a waiter. After handing over 27TL for the meal (the sum of money included a generous tip for the high quality of the food and the service), I walked through the park to the town centre, once again encountering many snails on the footpath. Cloud was building up again and the dull and humid conditions had tempted the snails to search for food.

A view of the river from the Celal Dogan Restaurant, Tunceli.

View of the river from Celal Dogan Restaurant, Tunceli.

Snails on the move seeking food: I was suddenly reminded that Hilary and Pippa were leaving the next day for a city break in Amsterdam and our garden would be left unattended for five whole days. Would the peas, beans, tomatoes, lettuce, basil and sage survive? Kindly, our next door neighbours had said they would water the plants if a dry spell prevailed.

I bought a second beer in the pazar and retired to my balcony from where I watched the night descend. The streets below remained very lively, but a few large drops of rain began to fall and thunder rumbled in the distance. Lightning, sometimes in forks and sometimes in sheets, filled the sky to the south and the southwest and the rain got steadily heavier. By 9.15pm the rain was so persistent that the streets were almost deserted, many businesses had closed and only a few men sat at low tables outside two nearby tea houses playing cards. By 10.00pm all the nearby businesses were shut and even the stray dogs sought shelter under roofs in the pazar. I had the last of the yoghurt, which, like the honey, had been locally made, and went to bed knowing Tunceli in particular and Dersim more generally had found a special place in my heart. Although I was leaving Tunceli the following morning, Pertek, where I would stay for two nights, is in Dersim, so I still had lots to enjoy.

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To Mazgirt.

During what was to be roughly forty-eight hours in and around Tunceli, I heard the adhan only once. There is a very ordinary, modern, Ottoman-style mosque in the town centre, but it was never very busy. I suspect that most people who use it are not indigenous, but outsiders who had settled in the town permanently or temporarily, perhaps for work purposes.

And it was most definitely NOT the adhan that woke me at about 4.00am. I was startled awake by a far more interesting and rhythmic sound, that of an unaccompanied male voice repeating the same or a very similar phrase many times, with other voices, which sounded male but may have included those of a few women, repeating the phrase after the soloist. At one point I thought I heard drums emphasising the rhythm, but it could have been human voices creating the effect. The chanting, because this was the best way of describing what I heard, went on for about twenty minutes and I assumed it came from a nearby cemevi. Because I did not hear the same thing the following morning at the same time, I assumed it must be something peculiar to the Monday concerned. Alternatively, were Alevis and/or Bektashis marking an important day in their cycle of festivals and commemorations, a cycle that differs significantly from the cycle of festivals and commemorations important to mainstream Sunni and Shia Muslims? Back home, because I found nothing significant about 25th May 2015 for Alevis or Bektashis, I concluded that what I heard was a routine practice confined to Mondays.

Tunceli.

Tunceli.

I knew that a minibus left for Mazgirt, my main destination for the day, at 7.00am, but, if I left that early, I would miss breakfast. As it is, Mazgirt is not a great distance from Tunceli, so an early start was not essential. I ate breakfast, which was not as good as the best nor as bad as the worst so far. I enjoyed in particular the views south, east and north from the L-shaped room in which the food was served. This said, a woman prepared the meal and the food included loose butter as white as Lurpak, a local cream cheese, boiled eggs and flat-bread still warm from the baker’s oven. The woman wore casual clothes of European character and no headscarf, as you might expect in a hotel run by two men who appeared to be socialists or communists.

Tunceli.

Tunceli.

The hotel's breakfast room, Tunceli.

The hotel’s breakfast room, Tunceli.

Because overnight I had an upset stomach, I returned to my room for a fourth and last shit to clear the system (as I knew from past experience, with an upset stomach regular shits are the best medicine and not medicine itself) and instantly felt a lot better.

At about 7.45 I left the hotel, walked to the bridge over the river carrying the road from Elazig to Pulumur and Erzincan, and made my way south toward Elazig and what I hoped would soon be the edge of town. But development persists for a long way, so much so that I flagged a minibus to Tunceli University’s campus, which I knew was about 7 kilometres from the town centre. The minibus went past many new buildings, most of which could not be more than ten years old. Some of the buildings coalesce into a quite attractive residential area with apartment blocks rising about eight to a dozen storeys. The blocks are painted bright colours and the apartments look comfortable. Every apartment has at least one balcony. Shops, offices, lokantas, bakeries and interior design and furniture stores occupy the ground floors, so the locality is a relatively self-sufficient suburb. This said, vacant plots exist among the apartment blocks and they are covered with litter and building waste.

None of the female students in the minibus or on their way to the university by walking or using other transport wore a headscarf. They and their male companions could have been conveyed to almost any campus in the UK and looked very much at home.

I got off the minibus when it turned off the road to Elazig to ascend the hillside to access the campus. I walked a short distance along the Elazig road to where an elderly couple were waiting for a minibus to Elazig via Pertek and the ferry that crosses the Keban Reservoir. The Elazig minibus arrived and, because it had the space, I went as far as the point where the road to Pertek branches from the much longer road to Elazig that I needed to follow to access Mazgirt. Once again, the driver would not take any money for the fare.

I was now about 8 kilometres from the junction for Mazgirt and confident that the next lift would get me at least that far. Five minutes later a van stopped and the driver and his companion said they were going to Mazgirt. The 11 kilometres from the junction to Mazgirt is through remarkably pretty undulating scenery dominated for most of the way by fields, orchards and pasture. In the distance are mountains and one of the mountains is the vast eruption of rock on which stands Mazgirt’s citadel. Mazgirt itself, a small and compact town, clings to the gently sloping wall of the mountain facing south. From the town there are wide views down the Munzur Cayi valley and over that of the lower Euphrates.

Mazgirt.

Mazgirt.

The citadel, Mazgirt.

The citadel, Mazgirt.

On the way to Mazgirt a car on the other side of the road ran over a puppy, but the driver did not stop to see if it had survived (nor did we stop, in fairness, but all three of us expressed anger and dismay that the driver running over the puppy could be so reckless and indifferent). The driver of the car in front of the one that ran over the puppy had applied its brakes so as not to do it any harm. Returning to Tunceli later in the day I saw that the puppy had not survived. Its body remained in the road where it had died.

I was dropped in the middle of Mazgirt, a town with an official population of just less than 2,000. A small square of irregular shape has the Hukumet Konagi on one side and, before leaving for Tunceli, I was invited inside by a police officer with whom I had some tea. Bunting of the different political parties hung from lamp posts and buildings, and the vans of the CHP pulled into town with the usual music blaring from loudspeakers (at one point in the Hukumet Konagi I had a conversation about Erdogan with a CHP bigwig or fixer. I was surprised that I had a far more negative impression of the president than he did).

Mazgirt.

Mazgirt.

Part of the square and a nearby street constitutes the commercial heart of the town and most premises are occupied by shops, small supermarkets, tea houses, lokantas, barbers, a butcher and a tailor. The dress of the women suggested Mazgirt has a largely Alevi population, so conversation was frequent and relaxed with everyone I met.

Mazgirt.

Mazgirt.

Although Mazgirt’s most important survival from the past is the citadel, I also examined two very ruined churches, the Ulu Camii, a turbe in excellent condition and some attractive old houses utilising stone, timber, plaster and, to fix holes in the walls or render roofs lightweight but watertight, corrugated iron or flat metal sheets. By the end of my short visit I liked the town a lot. I also liked the walk up and partly around the citadel majestically constructed on the mountain high above the town. During the walk I encountered beehives and wild flowers, the latter of enviable variety. Back in the town centre I alarmed a police officer when taking a photo of the landscaping that had rendered the small square a building site. He asked if I had taken a photo of an armoured vehicle parked outside the Hukumet Konagi. When I showed him the photos on my memory stick to confirm I had not, he relaxed and we shook hands. Mazgirt and its immediate surroundings had a much larger police and jandarma presence than I would have thought necessary, but, in fairness, some of the jandarma posts had been abandoned.

Mazgirt.

Mazgirt.

The police officer worried about my photographs was from Istanbul and had to serve in the small town of Mazgirt for two years. He was half way through his tour of duty and admitted that Mazgirt had come as quite a culture shock after living his whole life until twelve months before in Istanbul where secular and Sunni dispositions are vastly more apparent than Alevi.

Before leaving for Tunceli, I consumed two chilled ayrans in a small supermarket on the main square. By then I was very thirsty and in need of the refreshment.

Mazgirt.

Mazgirt.

By way of introducing Mazgirt to his readers, Sinclair notes that:

From the line of mountains extends a rocky arm pointing roughly south-west; from this again the delicate but formidable citadel rock breaks off towards the south-east; a remarkable detached tower of rock outlies it to the south-west. A bowl, where until the first world war most of the settlement lay, is thus enclosed on three sides by dark, broken cliffs: previously, part of the town had lain on the beginning of the descent towards the Munzur Cayi. The town has now moved.

Of the citadel, Sinclair writes that:

In its basic shape this is a long platform with a rock rising out of the middle…

Lower platform. There are walls upstanding only at a few points. At the sharp nw. corner they survive to a good height… The facing material of what survives is a reddish and purple block, and the walls that we see are probably near in date to the Elte Hatun Camii (1252/53). Approaching up the e. skirt one finds a small complex of walls…: to the r. is a rather crude but gently rising rock-hewn staircase…

Upper platform… Circular rock-hewn pit (original purpose unknown): the rectangular block of masonry built partly over its w. edge is said to have belonged to a windmill. Just n. of the inner angle starts a rectangular floor created by hollowing out the rock slope, so that the inner rock wall, against which some medieval (?) masonry has been added, is of a substantial height. Perhaps originally a platform connected with a temple elsewhere on the terrace?

The citadel, Mazgirt.

The citadel, Mazgirt.

The citadel, Mazgirt.

The citadel, Mazgirt.

What I call the Ulu Camii, because this is how Mazgirt’s inhabitants designate it today, Sinclair identifies as the Elte Hatun Camii. The mosque:

in which a dark, purplish composite stone was used, was built in 1252/53 by a princess called Elte Hatun… The prayer hall is a rectangle of limited size. The entrance vestibule is against the e. half of the n. wall… Since it is a single-vaulted chamber whereas the vaults of the prayer hall are taken on piers, it had to be built higher than the prayer hall…

Portal. The muqarnas canopy is cut into the back wall of a deep and tall arched recess… Cesme… Simple muqarnas canopy.

The entrance hall has a domical vault and lantern above… The prayer hall’s vaults rest on four solid, fairly low piers. From the piers are sprung thick n.-s. arches, and the vaults, interrupted by wide ribs, rest on arches. There is a lantern dead in the middle of the roof. The mihrab niche is a rectangle inset into the wall, on whose face runs a plain concave moulding.

Ulu Camii, Mazgirt.

Ulu Camii, Mazgirt.

 Sinclair calls the turbe the Elte Hatun Turbesi, but:

The low quality of the carving makes this almost inconceivable. Perhaps 15th century. Eight-sided, pyramidal cap. Door to n., three windows placed at the other points of the compass… Door frame: roughly executed plain mouldings. Either side, two vertical bands of an extraordinary incised decoration.

The turbe, Mazgirt.

The turbe, Mazgirt.

 The church in a better state of preservation is the Armenian Church of Surp Hakop. According to Sinclair:

Its ne. and e. sides, apparently lying against the hill, are in reality banked up with gradually accumulating loose earth. The church is a strangely short rectangle. The apse and the side chambers are conceived of as openings dug into a mass of masonry filling the e. end and faced in a clean wall. The nave, not much longer than it is wide, is roofed by a broad barrel-vault steadied by a powerful rib. From the springing-line upwards, the w. wall has disappeared, leaving only the bases of the three windows in this wall. Large cut blocks are used on the sw. corner. Thus the doorway and its relieving arch are executed in this masonry. Note muqarnas-style decoration of capitals of rib and at base of arch leading to apse.

Church of Surp Hakop, Mazgirt.

Church of Surp Hakop, Mazgirt.

Church of Surp Hakop, Mazgirt.

Church of Surp Hakop, Mazgirt.

Church of Surp Hakop, Mazgirt.

Church of Surp Hakop, Mazgirt.

Perhaps 16th or 17th century; however, the church has the appearance of being reconstructed from the ruins of a predecessor whose e. end was of a similar design, but whose nave would have been longer and thus better proportioned.

Church of Surp Hakop, Mazgirt.

Church of Surp Hakop, Mazgirt.

Church of Surp Hakop, Mazgirt.

Church of Surp Hakop, Mazgirt.

Church of Surp Hakop, Mazgirt.

Church of Surp Hakop, Mazgirt.

Not all that Sinclair describes above survives today, but even less remains of the second church, which is also likely to be Armenian. Nonetheless, I provide in full Sinclair’s brief description so we acquire an insight into what has been lost:

That of the Mother of God. N. side chamber; beginning of apse and apse arch; arch now blocked, which once separated n. aisle from nave, part of vault over nave are left. Probably a basilican church. Date extremely hard (to estimate); possibly medieval. Arches in brick.

Church of the Mother of God.

Church of the Mother of God.

Although too small to support of hotel, even a very simple one, Mazgirt is a delightful place in remarkably attractive surroundings and well worth visiting for at least a few hours.

Mazgirt.

Mazgirt.

I walked out of the town past a modern school and a driver stopped his car to ask where I was going. He drove me all the way to the centre of Tunceli where he had business to conduct and shopping to do. Until we arrived among the kipple cluttering the south end of Tunceli, the journey was scenically a delight.